Some might think that a high school history class is all lectures and notetaking and no fun. We don’t get to get up and dance like in show choir, or act out scenes from Shakespeare like in English- or do we? My students would likely tell you that there was a bit of lecturing that took place most days, and that notetaking should have happened ad nauseam, but I hope they would also say we had a fair amount of fun too.
We got up often! We had to go to different corners signifying whether we agreed or disagreed with a particular statement and then defend that position. We turned the classroom into the senate chambers and debated different points of the US Constitution. We divided between workers and owners and negotiated a contract. We made movies, wrote songs, and build bomb shelters out of classroom materials. High school history is anything but boring, if you ask me.
I had this carpet with the United States of America on it, and would often gather the students there, just like in elementary school. Sometimes I would read to them- just like elementary school. Once, I was having trouble explaining to the students how Boss Tweed was able to gain so much political power. I knew I needed help to visualize the graft, so I turned to my trusty PEZ collection.
PEZ- you remember the pastel-colored sugar concoctions that load into a variety of themed dispensers to the delight of all? Well over the years, I have amassed quite a collection. Nearly every one of these was given to me by someone- typically a student. I have written names on many of them so I never forget who gave me what. I have like 5 Kermits and 4 Santas, but it doesn’t matter. The kids loved seeing them, organizing them, and even using them.
So, when I had this problem explaining the political machine, I turned to the PEZ, and found different characters to act out all the voices. Luckily, I had been given a fly, which played Boss Tweed himself. It worked pretty well for some students. The PEZ collection got the name “The PEZ Players” and was often featured in various situations. I’ll admit that it was pretty funny, and that’s one reason I kept using them.
I have seen a few history classes in my time, and know that we who teach history get painted as boring and underprepared. But I also know that there’s a wealth of information to be learned about history, and I feel it is mightily important to our democracy. I don’t have any problem being silly or embarrassed if it gets my kids to think.